Neighborhood: Atwater Village, an “up and coming,” formerly industrial area tucked into L.A.’s mountainous East Side
Hook: Incarnated in a loft-like masonry building with giant wood tresses, this hip mecca serves as the East Side’s first (and only) full-service day spa.
Not many years ago, interior designer Cary Mock and his partner Kenneth King had to sate their frequent spa cravings by making arduous treks through L.A.’s notorious traffic to West Hollywood or Pasadena from their home base in Atwater Village. Atwater, a tightknit East Side enclave, had long been beloved by grungy rockers, starving artists and other variations on the “modern hipster” theme, yet was woefully lacking in the wellness department. “We thought it was crazy that there was nothing here yet,” recalls Mock.
So, he set to scouting neighborhood locations for his dream spa—eventually realized in Dtox’s calming-yet-upscale, eco-friendly oasis. King, an entrepreneur, enrolled in massage school, and both men took a small business management class to ensure they were conducting proper market research and planning appropriately. Meanwhile, the couple’s loved ones were dubious.
“Everyone said we were crazy, that there was no demographic for a spa here,” Mock says, “when in actuality, young professionals, maturing hipsters and industry folk were all starting to buy homes here. Plus, Angelenos love the possibility of not having to drive far.”
Mock had a point. By the time Dtox opened its doors on Los Feliz Boulevard, buzz was strong, thanks to jumbo street banners, local press attention and plenty of community support. As Mock and King prepped their warehouse space prior to Dtox’s grand opening, curious passers-by and prospective staffers were popping in off the street. “Everybody around here knows their neighbors—they’re all out walking their dogs—and take pride in local mom-and-pop businesses,” Mock says. “Plus, there turned out to be plenty of talented East Side therapists who were thrilled to not have to drive in to Beverly Hills to work.”
Excitement mounted once locals were able to actually experience Dtox’s contemporary, minimalist Asian design—a giant Buddha and double waterfall set the tone—and its organic facials, body treatments and massages. Mock fashioned the spa’s singularly hip boutique ambiance on a shoestring budget, but wisely brought in an experienced spa consultant to function as spa director and handle training and menu development.
Trial-and-error was the name of the game during Dtox’s early months. “At first we spent a lot on print ads, but soon discovered our best outlet was search engines,” Mock says. “So we had therapists hand out business cards requesting positive Yelp reviews from happy clients.”
Mock believes that a dedication to service, plus his and King’s luck in having established a loyal base clientele prior to the recession, helped Dtox weather the harsh economic storm. Other savvy business tactics included paring down the menu—“spray tanning and nail services created a noise factor we weren’t happy about”—and finding creative ways to cater to their young, happening guests. Happy Hour Fridays, a monthly evening event at which $39 gets guests into a DJ’d party at the spa, complete with organic wine and hors’ d’ouvres, a 20-minute service of their choice, and opportunities to mingle with fellow spa aficionados and Dtox’s cool-as-they-come staffers, has been a hit. “Once we get people in, they tend to think, ‘Wow, what a great space,’ and often end up coming back for full treatments,” Mock says. (Full disclosure: I attended one such event and was amazed by the level of party Dtox managed to foster—let’s just say it was way more OMG than om.)
This community spirit is still central to Dtox’s ongoing marketing efforts. “We’re very involved in all surrounding neighborhood business chambers, maintain presence at local street fairs, operate school donations and give tons of services to private auctions,” Mock says. “PTAs love us because they can always count on a donation. If you can get moms talking, they’ll be your best marketing tools.” To serve increasing numbers of guests driving in from the predominantly suburban San Fernando Valley, Mock and King went out on a limb in 2010 by purchasing a second space some 15 miles west in Encino!
“The opportunity arose after the recession,” Mock says. “We always had the idea of a second location on the back burner, and this location was just far enough away that it wouldn’t affect our demographic in Atwater. When the space became available, we jumped at it.”
After seven years’ worth of elbow grease, Mock and King can now focus on the big Dtox picture. They’ve hired a marketing specialist, and no longer “wear 10 hats” to run their business. “It has been a great and growing experience,” Mock reflects, “but it’s nice to finally be able to step back and focus on staying true to our original business model: a low-key yet funky oasis to serve the fun-loving, if a little offbeat, spa-goer.” —Katie O’Reilly
Dtox Day Spa
Size: 6,500 square feet
Facility: 12 treatment rooms, co-ed lounge, retail/reception area, his-and-hers locker rooms with steam rooms
Staff: 30 (serving both locations)
Most popular treatments: Dtox Custom Facial (25-50 min./$65-110), Dtox Custom Massage (25-80 min./$70-$145) and Signature Massage Experience (80 min./$170)
Average service ticket: $105
Products used/retailed: Dtox private label, Ilike